By Mark Muncher
I can only describe it as glorious. I could hear my coaching partner barking instructions. I fought back the sizeable lump in my throat as our red-faced, exhausted young warriors charged up the basketball court. I watched parents and family members glow with pride. I saw the smirks of the hardest pre-game skeptics melt into a puddle of begrudging grins. The gym seemed filled with the respect that these unrelenting, unlikely heroes had earned from their peers who feverishly worked to position themselves for one last shot. The greatest part of it all was the bright red scoreboard illuminating the room. We were victorious!
I have been fortunate enough to be involved in many of my childrenís wins and losses and I wouldnít trade those experiences for finest gold. There was something about this one, however, that made it different from those I had previously been a part of. It was hard to believe, but there it was for everyone to read:
THEIR TEAM: 16
OUR TEAM: 11
O.K. You donít have to tell me. I know. We lost. The thing is no one in that gym that Saturday morning would agree with you. Sure, the other team improved its overall record. We had our chances but came up short in the final tally. The scorebook will always read that the other team won. Our team will practice this week with a fervor that we have long since become accustomed to as those fortunate enough to coach them. The other teams and coaches will go back to work preparing for next week. All will be much as it has been since basketball season has started. That Saturday morning will fade into memory as so many have before it. I donít think that it will fade quite as quickly for me as for some, for it was in that instant, as I stood there soaking in that special moment, that Christ taught me something about what it means to win that I will carry forever.
We had lost before. Truth is we had never won a game. Not one. Ever. I can recall long talks that we had as coaches about how we would one day win with this team. Our first goal was to get them from one end of the court to the other in a fashion that loosely resembled what we had worked on in practice. They are, after all five and six-year-olds. Next came the concept of shooting: up in the air, in a forward motion, and toward the goal.
Then came defense (which is defined in this arena as the collision of two bodies each striving to occupy the same spot.) Lest we forget, lining up on either side of the goal so that someone can shoot a free-throw is an act not unlike stacking BBís on a freshly polished table. I probably revised my goals twenty times those first two weeks. Coaches have often been guilty of obsessing over the importance of a game that these precious faces see only as an obstacle between themselves and a free game Coke. I naturally equated the winning we spoke of as being ahead on that scoreboard at gameís end.
With each missed shot, mishandled dribble and errant pass, this group was changing my heart. We were asking more from them than any group I had ever coached. They were embarking on an incredible journey and they may have been the only ones that didnít realize it. You see, these nine pony-tailed, bracelet-wearing soldiers of the hardwood were all little girls!
Now the fact that they were young ladies isnít strange in and of itself. GOD created a lot of little girls. Some of them have even played basketball. Where all of this went from ordinary to extraordinary was a couple of months ago when two guys decided that the only thing more grand than coaching a team of five and six-year-olds (and one four-year-old) in an all boys league, would be coaching a team of girls in a five and six-year-old all boys league!
Now before your mind begins to drift to thoughts of some great battle of the sexes, please understand that this was not some ploy to "show up the boys." As a father of a four, both boys and girls, I would never consider a route of embarrassment for any child. On the contrary, our desire was to help to build a foundation for girlsí sports in our community and we simply had no other place to play. I will always have the utmost respect for all of those coaches who allowed us to do this. Had there been hesitation, I am not sure we would have ever pursued it. There was risk involved for those opposing coaches, as there was with the parents of these children. Most importantly, however, was that we would never want to place these girls in a position that hurt them in any way.
Two of them are my children. All of them are special.
It took very little time to allay the fears that existed. They have, since the beginning, exemplified the word "team" Ė never a selfish word. They have played hurt. They have actually played while they were crying, refusing to stop in their determination to be better. And they cheer. Oh, how they cheer. For free throws. Rebounds. Time outs. You name it. Some of them wanted basketballs for Christmas. They have never once asked when practice was over.
I know much of this isnít unique to our girls. Itís just that all that they are and have been came flooding over me that Saturday morning as I realized that my definition of victory and theirs was so great in contrast. There isnít a single member of this team that doesnít hope to one day see themselves on the winning side of that scoreboard, but that isnít what makes them play. They understand winning. They win when Mom and Dad hug them after the game. They win when we coaches let them know we are proud of them. They win when they stand in a circle with hands stacked together, and yell, "1! 2! 3! Go Team!" They win when they score and when they donít. They love it for what it is Ė a game. For this short season they are family; all pulling together for one purpose. Never pondering the "glory" that awaits if they work hard and remain committed to the task at hand, they play for the joy of this moment in time. Tey let us worry about championships. They play. They laugh. They enjoy. They trust.
This season is far from over. There are many games to be played. If there is justice in team sports, these gentle souls will light up the scoreboard in their favor. If and when they do, that scoreboard will only be telling the world what they already know: They are winners. Itís little wonder that Christ said we must come to him as a little child. He understands and so do they. I can only pray that between the two of them, they can teach the rest of us.
Mark Muncher is married and a father of four. He is the Writer/Director of "Dive-In Theater," the drama ministry of Beechwood Baptist in Mount Olive, Alabama. He writes articles for the local newspaper and, as a youth director and Sunday School teacher, he has written a weekly newsletter. He has 12-15 full-length plays, along with his 26 skits per year for Beechwood Baptist Church.
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